Equality Culture: Reconciling Identities in a Human Rights Framework

Vincent Depaigne
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The purpose of the present paper is to assess how human rights, in particular the principle of non-discrimination, can be articulated with group identities and rights. The paper will focus on the legal dimension of equality and group rights through a comparative approach based on international law.

The paper will draw first from anthropological works on human rights, showing the link between individualism and the rise in the assertion of group identities. I will show how equal recognition of differences is the logical consequence of the equal recognition of individuals.

Through a study of a number of national legal frameworks jurisprudence and international law, I will show the dilemmas related to the equality principle applied to cultural differences and discriminations. I will show how implementing the equality principle entails the recognition of the nexus between ethnic or group origin and social disadvantage (in particular through “affirmative action”). I will then turn to the issue of secularism (defined as the separation between culture and politics) to show as well the dilemmas relating to a neutral approach to culture.

Human rights, initially aimed at integration in a homogenous society, have lead over time to the legal recognition of distinct groups. In doing so, human rights are closely linked to the growing recognition of distinct group identities, showing the strong link between individual and group equality. The issue is therefore for States to provide rights to groups, especially to the most disadvantaged, while at the same time ensuring that this is not detrimental to individual rights.

Keywords: Equality, Culture, Human Rights, Identity, Individualism
Stream: Ethnicity, Difference, Identity
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Equality and Culture

Vincent Depaigne

Administrator, Asia Directorate, External Relations Department, European Commission

I have been working since 1995 in the external relations department of the European Commission, first in the Middle East department (as desk officer for Lebanon and Jordan, following which I was posted in Beirut, Lebanon), second in the Asia department (regional desk followed by Indonesia desk). I have a background in political science (Masters degree of the Institute of Political Studies in Paris - "Sciences Po"), public law (Master degree from University of Paris I) and I have completed a Master in international human rights law at Oxford University (graduation expected: April 2006). My main interest stem from the inter-cultural dimension of my work: I am developing a research, based on my work in Oxford on caste and international law, on how particular cultures and the universalistic human rights framework can be made compatible and how individual and group aspiration to equality can be articulated.

Ref: H06P0358